Gardening Articles: Health :: Cooking
by National Gardening Association Editors
Pickling is one of the oldest ways to preserve food. You simply ferment vegetables in a salt brine or vinegar solution, and store them when the process is complete. Pickling is the best way to keep cucumbers once the harvest is over.
There are a few different ways to pickle. Either ferment vegetables in a brine for many weeks, or fresh-pack the produce in a vinegar solution in Mason jars, seal them using a boiling water bath, and let them ferment in the jars for four to six weeks.
To ferment in a salt brine, use stone crocks or kegs, or clean, watertight, hardwood barrels lined with enamel, glass or paraffin. Although pickles will keep fairly well stored in such containers, for safety reasons you should transfer fermented pickles to canning jars and process them for storage.
Use slightly under-ripe pickling or dual-purpose cucumbers that grow just 2 1/2 to four inches. Their small size and thin skins make them ideal for curing.
One key to crispness is to use only fresh, just-harvested cukes that you've picked in the morning before the sun has warmed them up. Vegetables stored in the refrigerator lose quality with each hour that passes after they've been picked. The ingredients you use for the pickling brine are also important to ensure crisp, flavorful, evenly-cured vegetables.
Use only pure, granulated salt with no noncaking material or iodine added. This is sold as pickling salt, barrel salt or kosher salt. Do not use table salt or iodized salt.
Use a 4-to 6-percent acidity cider or white vinegar. If the label doesn't list the acidity, don't use it for pickles or relishes. Use as much vinegar as the recipe specifies; the amount of acidity is crucial to safe processing.
Soft water is best for pickling. You can soften hard water by boiling it, skimming off the surface scum and letting it sit for 24 hours. Don't disturb the sediment at the bottom when you use this softened water.